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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Homer Sykes

Other: Homer W. Sykes 
Dates:  1949, 11 January -
Born:  Canada, BC, Vancouver
Active:  UK
London based photographer, lecturer, and occasional self-publisher. Mansion Editions is his self-publishing arm - Has spent forty years documenting a British way of life. Other long term projects on Shanghai, and the USA have been turned into successful books

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ThumbnailHomer Sykes: Once a Year: Some Traditional British Customs 
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Homer Sykes has been a professional magazine photographer for over thirty-seven years. He principally worked for what used to be called in England the weekend colour supplements. The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Observer magazine. He also traveled widely covering international news features for Newsweek, Time and the former Now! magazine.
Always during his career Homer has worked on personal photographic documentary projects. His work on traditional British country customs that he started in 1970 and finished seven years later with the publication of his book Once a Year, some traditional British customs (Gordon Fraser) was the first such extended project.
He is the author, and co-author-photographer of eight books about Britain, as well as Shanghai Odyssey (Dewi Lewis Publishing) and On the Road Again (Mansion Editions) On the Road Again, his American project was started in 1969, while at college, the photographic road trip was repeated in 1971. The work was then put away for thirty years, and in 1999 and 2001 he traveled once again by Greyhound bus crisscrossing America documenting the ‘down home’ idiosyncrasy of everyday middle America.
In 2002 he set up his one-man band self-publishing concern Mansion Editions, and self published On the Road Again and then Hunting with Hounds which he published to coincide with the proposed ban on hunting with dogs.
He has three grown up children Theo, Jacob and Tallulah and lives by himself in sleepy suburban south London.
1967-1970 The London College of Printing and Graphic Arts
Solo exhibitions
2003 Shanghai Odyssey. The Open Eye Gallery Liverpool
2002 Shanghai Odyssey. The Queens Birthday Party, Shanghai, China
1978 The English Season, South Bank Gallery, London
1977 Traditional British Calendar Customs, Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (toured the UK)
Group exhibitions
2007 How We Are: Photographing Britain. Tate Britain
2007 Viva, 1972-1982, Jeu de Paume. Paris, France
2006 Small selection from On the Road Again shown by Getty Images Gallery, Photo-London
2005 Shanghai Odyssey, Urbana. Festival di Fotografia e Arte Contemporanea Biella Italy
2003 Shanghai Odyssey @ Memorial Mario Giacomelli. Brescia and Milan, Italy
2002 Beyond the Façade. (The Guardian) Newsroom Gallery (21 years of Photojournalism from Network Photographers), London
2002 On the Road Again, Exposure 2002 Hereford
1986 A British Eye on the World, Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1978 Reportage Fotografen, Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Vienna
1977 Traditional Country Customs. Side Gallery. Newcastle, England
1976 Recontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles, France
1975 The Camera and the Craftsman (toured Britain)
1971 Young British Photographers, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford
1971 Traditional Country Customs, Joint show with Sir Benjamin Stone at the ICA London
1970 Personal Views 1850-1970, British Council London (toured Europe)
1981 Dead Line Award. For excellence in News Photography in Northern Ireland for Newsweek Magazine
Hunting with Hounds
Hunting with Hounds is a vision of 21st century hunting in all its rich diversity. It is the document of one man who has spent the past year photographing hunting with hounds with sensitivity and humour - and occasional warm-hearted mischief. Homer Sykes has turned his camera on representative hunts - fox, deer, hare, mink, rabbit and rat - all quarry that are hunted with hounds. His unusual eye has caught the thrill of the chase, the grandeur of the society hunt, the pride of the rat catcher, the sartorial sense of the cognoscenti, and the everyday essence of hunting as a way of rural life.
In Hunting with Hounds, Homer Sykes has captured all those vivid and passionate colours of hunting, of an intrinsically English way of life, in a feast of black and white.
On the Road Again
America, continent of idiosyncrasy, captured in the raw over a period of thirty years and photographed with refreshing candour and affectionate humour.
This is a very personal picture, a unique glimpse of everyday ‘down home’ America without the cellophane wrapping. A journal in pictures and words of an America which seems scarcely to have changed as photographs flow seamlessly across the decades.
Homer Sykes has turned this immense country of vast spaces and ordinary people into an intimate album of everyday encounters. With a keenly tuned eye and a sense of the absurd, his art is to turn the mundane into the surreal, to infuse the normal with a sense of humour and elevate it to the extraordinary.
Shanghai Odyssey
Photographer’s connections.
In 1946, in the euphoria that followed the ending of the second world war, my mother and father met on board a ship sailing from Hong Kong to Shanghai.
A journey of just 5 days.
A journey that will last the rest of my life. They fell deeply in love.
My father, Homer Warwick Sykes, was working as an engineer for the China National Aviation Corporation in Shanghai. He was an American, born in Canada of English parentage.
My mother, Helen Grimmitt, was travelling to a new job at the Canadian Consulate. She was Canadian, born and brought up in Hong Kong.
Just shortly before their wedding, she wrote to her four sisters: “ I shall be a married woman. Mrs. Homer W. Sykes. I can’t believe it as I sit here typing to you, I have to smile, I wonder what you will think? …… he’s a rough diamond - and I love him very very much, he is wonderful, at least I think so,……. I haven’t known him very long, but somehow I know I will love him always, and that he will want and love me forever – he’s so wonderful”
Later in the letter she describes to her sisters how her life has changed so entirely since leaving San Francisco.
“It’s hard to believe - life here in Shanghai in itself is fantastic, there is nothing to hold on to, no law, no order as we, of the western world know it – filth, noises and smells, and sounds unheard of, and certainly not tolerated in the occidental world, go unchecked twenty-four hours a day here.”
Further on she writes, “Its monetary system is wild – CNC$8,000 for a coke, lunches and dinners run anywhere from CNC$50,000.- for a normal ordinary meal- prices change from day to day – the present black market rate is around 40,000 to 1 - the official exchange being $18,000 to one, the black market is wild and very dangerous- life here is precarious, one lives as though suspended from mid-air by a web and left to the mercy of tropical storms of which Shanghai has her full share - it’s the breath of many a vagabond’s existence – emotions soar from the highest peak to the lowest, all long for a new way of life but will guard the memory of life in Shanghai! I love it all.”
They were married in Shanghai at the American Community Church in August 1947.
Soon after their wedding they moved into a small set of rooms, a company apartment just north of the Bund, and threw themselves enthusiastically into the whirl of expatriate and consulate social life.
My mother became pregnant in April 1948.
Two months later, in June, my father was tragically killed in an aviation accident at Lunghua Airfield.
Devastated, my mother left for California on the SS President Wilson and returned to her parent’s home in Vancouver, Canada, just before Christmas.
I was born three weeks later, and named after my father.
When my good friend, Gerry Grimstone, asked if I would be interested in working on a book about Shanghai, I naturally jumped at the idea. I was, after all, a product of that city.
In May 2000, on my second night in Shanghai, I wandered down towards the Bund. It was dusk, and I began to think about where my parents might have lived over fifty years ago.
I was walking along a busy street, which opened up into a small circle, and cross roads. There were two tall twin Art Deco buildings, one on either side of the circle, and both had seen better days. One, The Metropole Hotel, was being restored. The other building looked faded, and down at heel.
I experienced a very strange feeling, something that I have never felt before, and I was overcome with a knowledge within myself that this was where my parents had lived. I looked inside the Metropole Hotel and wondered if they had ever had a drink in the bar.
I didn’t mention this incident, these strange inner feelings, to anyone, but on my return to London I started to look through my mother’s papers which I had kept in a trunk in the garage. I had had no real reason to look carefully through these files before. Amongst them, I found their address: 425 Hamilton House.
I emailed Gerry, who was in Shanghai, and told him that my parents had lived at a place called Hamilton House, and that was all I knew. He checked a reference book, and Hamilton House was listed.
It was now called the Fu Zhou Building at 170 Jiangxi Lu.
On my next visit, I was determined to find it. With two students to act as interpreters, I jumped in a cab and we took off, weaving through a mass of traffic and maze of streets until we were eventually dropped off in Jiangxi Lu.
It’s a very long street with no clear numbering system. We wandered along, never quite sure if we were going in the right direction. Suddenly, without realising it, I found myself in the circle where I had been at dusk on my previous trip.
The twin Art Deco buildings were instantly recognisable. I called out that I was sure that this building was Hamilton House. It just had to be.
We made enquiries at the porter’s desk. The old lady there thought it might have been. I was extremely excited. We asked if we could go inside to try and find rooms 425, explaining that my parents had lived there over 50 years ago, and I wanted to see their apartment.
The liftman took us up to the fourth floor. What were once wide handsome panelled corridors were now dark and dingy. Naked low voltage bulbs threw light on dirty wash stands and primitive cooking facilities. Cupboards filled and spilled out into the corridor. Drying laundry hung from nails knocked into the cobwebbed walls.
Eventually we found number 425, and knocked. The door opened, and through a grill we explained my presence. Could I come in and have a look, perhaps take some photographs? Reluctantly they agreed, a toddler on a bike greeted me. The apartment was neat. A large square space divided into five, a small kitchen, and a dining room. Off the dining room, was a large bathroom with a huge bathtub - the walls still clad with original old small square black-and-white ceramic tiles. The sitting room housed a small table and two arm chairs. Off that, the bedroom was dominated by a large heavy wooden dresser and a huge double bed. It was the room in which I suspect I was conceived.
As we left, I asked if there was anyone still living there who remembered it as Hamilton House. Several old ladies in the corridor shrugged their shoulders before one said that perhaps the old man at the top of the building might have been there then.
The liftman took us up to the highest floor accessible by lift, and pointed us in the right direction. From there, we walked up two floors and found a very small two roomed apartment. A middle aged woman and her husband were in, and obviously just back from work. “Yes, the old man still lives here,” she said. She was his daughter, and showed us into his room.
He lay there on his death bed, eighty nine years old. Xu Hou Shen had worked as one of the maintenance men in Hamilton House from the age of seventeen. In those days, he said, only the very rich Chinese and foreigners lived in Hamilton House. When it was explained to him why I was there, he broke down in tears, weeping inconsolably. “The memory of the ‘good old days’ are too much for him” explained his daughter. I had tears in my eyes too.
I framed the scene in my viewfinder and focused my camera.  

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
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